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REVIEW BY: Paul Weedon
RELEASED: May 4
They were once terrifying, but it’s a telling sign of fatigue among film audiences that the humble zombie – once considered one of the horror genre’s most dependable stalwarts – has come to represent little more than a joke.
Poking fun at the undead is nothing new of course – even George A. Romero indulged himself with the inclusion of that memorably daft custard pie sequence towards the end of Dawn of the Dead – but nevertheless, it’s fair to say that, today at least, zombies aren’t taken quite seriously as they once were.
However, with AMC’s glorious adaptation of The Walking Dead currently covering all bases with regards on the small screen, the zom com continues to thrive on the big screen. And Director Alejandro Brugués’ Juan of the Dead serves as a perfectly respectable addition to the burgeoning sub-genre.
Our titular hero (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is a forty something Cuban native who, for the most part, has lived out a lazy, idyllic lifestyle in Havana. One day, much to his annoyance, the dead inexplicably suddenly start returning to life. Spotting a golden opportunity to make a quick buck. Juan and a merry band of misfits decide to offer up his questionable services, killing off the city’s deceased loved ones for a price.
With a screenplay crammed full of knowing allusions to its forebears, Brugués’ relishes the opportunity to take pot shots at the more ridiculous tropes and inconsistencies of a genre he clearly loves.
Juan’s subtler self-referential side occasionally suggests this is more than a meagre exercise in slapstick violence and arbitrary silliness. Díaz de Villegas’ world-weary performance certainly makes for an ineffably likable lead, and Brugués executes his gory set pieces with gleeful panache.
The problem is much of Juan’s narrative tends to fall flat, as many gags require at least a basic knowledge of Cuban history. The film’s casual use of homophobia is particularly jarring, while there’s a nagging sense the threadbare plot serves little purpose other than to establish one bloody, if undeniably enjoyable, set piece after another.
The end result ultimately makes for a diverting, if largely forgettable, ride that sits somewhat uneasily alongside the likes of Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. Nevertheless, Brugués’ unique brand of commie-inspired silliness deserves credit for attempting to breathe new life in to a sub-genre that should have died a long time ago, but keeps on stumbling along.